[bitcoin-dev] SPV Mining reveals a problematic incentive issue.

Nathan Wilcox nathan at leastauthority.com
Sat Jul 11 12:09:16 UTC 2015

On Sat, Jul 11, 2015 at 2:24 AM, Jorge Timón <jtimon at jtimon.cc> wrote:
> All miners should validate transactions precisely because of the latest
attack you've described.

The problem is one of individual incentives leading to a systemic problem.
"All X should do..." solutions which are oblivious to individual incentives
don't scale, eg: "If all factories avoid emitting pollution they don't pay
for..." does not work if individual factories save their own costs by
dumping into the environment.  No one wants environmental catastrophe, and
no one wants a blockchain where miners don't validate transactions, but
there may be a systemic problem of incentives.

The bitcoin.org claim that "about half" of miner capacity does SPV Mining,
is consistent with the incentives problem as I described it.  However, I
don't claim the state of mining is certainly due to these incentives and
not other incentives we haven't discussed.  Also, there may be other
incentives that outweigh this issue.

On Sat, Jul 11, 2015 at 3:39 AM, Tier Nolan <tier.nolan at gmail.com> wrote:

> On Sat, Jul 11, 2015 at 10:24 AM, Jorge Timón <jtimon at jtimon.cc> wrote:
>> I think it would be more rational for them to keep mining on top of the
>> old block until they've fully validated the new block (which shouldn't take
>> so long anyway), even if this slightly increases the orphan rate.
> Increased orphan rate means that the network is (slightly) less secure.
> If miners have a 5% orphan rate, then an attacker can launch a 51% attack
> with 49% of the network.
> It isn't a massive difference, but it is there.
> As long as miners switch back to non-SPV mining after a timeout,
> SPV-mining is safe for everyone.
If there's any cost to non-SPV mining, and the chance that an incoming
block contains only valid transactions is very high, isn't there still an
incentive to make this timeout longer and longer?

The average cost to the miner from building on an invalid block is small,
> as long as invalid blocks only happen rarely.
Yes. If it's rare enough, then skipping transaction validation saves more
cost than the expected cost of mining atop an invalid block.  ... but if
everyone follows that logic, the chance is no longer rare.

> Miners still have an incentive to do full validation, so that they can
> include transactions and get transaction fees.
This is a good point.  If the benefit to skipping verification outweighs
expected transaction costs, then a non-validating miner might also choose
to mine empty blocks with only their coinbase.  (I recall hearing this
occurred somewhat regularly around 2013, but I haven't paid attention since
then.  How common are empty blocks these days?)

This is a benefit of the world where transaction fees approach or surpass
block reward.

SPV-mining is to prevent hashing hardware from having to waste power when
> it isn't needed.
It may be less of a problem if (when?) electricity costs dominate hardware
> capital costs.

Oh.  This is a different explanation than Peter Todd's I linked to above,
which claimed it was network latency in receiving transactions.

Could you explain this a bit more?  What is not needed, the hashing
hardware or the power?  How does SPV Mining affect that?

I'll bet there are many individual rationales for SPV-Mining, but
ultimately they come down to dropping a cost based on a bet about other
miners' behavior.

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Nathan Wilcox
Least Authoritarian

email: nathan at leastauthority.com
twitter: @least_nathan
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